THE Filipino migrant workers or overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), called the country's modern-day heroes for keeping the Philippine economy afloat through their remittances, were among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a report released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) on March 7, before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019, there were 2.18 million registered OFWs. Of this number, 2.11 million were overseas contract workers (OCWs) and about 69,000 were other Filipino workers abroad with valid working visas and work permits.

An alarming 83 percent, or about 664,000 of the estimated 800,000 OFWs who were displaced by the pandemic, went jobless for at least three months following their arrival in the country, according to a recent report by the United Nations International Organization Migration (IOM).

The IOM report titled "Covid-19 Impact Assessment on Returned Overseas Filipino Workers" was based on interviews with over 8,000 repatriated OFWs. It is part of the organization's global response to the Covid-19 outbreak to better understand the challenges, as well as the needs of migrant workers.

In its 52-page report, the IOM said that the pandemic has also resulted in a 75-percent reduction in the deployment of OFWs in 2020, the lowest in over three decades.

Based on the initial data presented by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) during a Senate budget hearing, the number of deployed OFWs in 2020 was 1,394,788. This is considerably lower compared to the 2 million for the entire of 2019.

Of the said OFWs deployed, 1,101,040 were land-based and 293,748 were sea-based. One of the most severely affected was the household service workers (HSW), which comprised 60 percent of the country's yearly deployment figures.

Data also showed that 67 percent of the assessed OFWs' decision to return was due to Covid-19, which greatly affected the economies of the OFWs' destination countries.

"The OFWs stated that their biggest need was to have employment. Over 78 percent of all returning OFW identified income-generation as their greatest challenge," the IOM report said.

The pandemic problem and impending economic recovery are among the topics to be discussed by labor stakeholders in today's online business forum of The Manila Times entitled "OFWs: The country's economic heroes."

In the same forum, Secretary Abdullah Mamao of the newly formed Department of Migrant Workers will lay down the direction for the transition period leading to the turnover to the department of all agencies and bureaus catering to overseas workers.

Currently, these agencies and bureaus are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor and Employment.

Among the said offices are the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Also invited as resource persons are private employer representatives Joel Ong, president, Southeast Asian Placement Center Inc. (SEAPCI), for the health care workers sector; and Antonio Galvez Jr., chief executive officer, Marlow Navigation Philippines Inc., for the seafarers' sector.

The forum will be simultaneously livestreamed on The Times Facebook page, YouTube channel and Dailymotion account from 10 a.m. to noon. TMT editors Dafort Villaseran and Conrad Cariño will serve as the forum moderators.